Qatar files WTO complaint against trade boycott

Qatar tells World Trade Organization Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain are violating trade laws and conventions.

Passengers walk at Hamad International Airport in Doha
Complaint spells out how boycott impedes Qatar's rights in the trade in goods and services [File: Reuters]

Qatar has filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) to challenge a trade boycott by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

By formally “requesting consultations” with the three countries, the first step in a trade dispute, Qatar triggered a 60-day deadline for them to settle the complaint or face litigation at the WTO and potential retaliatory trade sanctions.

“We’ve given sufficient time to hear the legal explanations on how these measures are in compliance with their commitments, to no satisfactory result,” Ali Alwaleed Al Thani, the director of Qatar’s WTO office, told the Reuters news agency on Monday.

“We have always called for dialogue, for negotiations, and this is part of our strategy to talk to the members concerned and to gain more information on these measures, the legality of these measures, and to find a solution to resolve the dispute.”

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The boycotting states cut ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of financing terrorism, and allying with Iran, their regional foe, allegations Doha denies.

The WTO suit does not include Egypt, the fourth country involved in the boycott.

Although it has also cut travel and diplomatic ties with Qatar, Egypt did not expel Qatari citizens or ask Egyptians to leave Qatar. Al Thani declined to explain why Egypt was not included.

Trade rights

The text of Qatar’s WTO complaint cites “coercive attempts at economic isolation” and spells out how the blockading countries are impeding Qatar’s trade rights.

The disputed restrictions include bans on trade through Qatar’s ports and travel by Qatari citizens, blockages of Qatari digital services and websites, the closure of maritime borders and prohibition of flights operated by Qatari aircraft.

The complaint does not put a value on the trade boycott, and Al Thani declined to estimate how much Qatar could seek in sanctions if the litigation ever reached that stage, which can take five years or longer in the WTO system.

“We remain hopeful that the consultations could bear fruit in resolving this,” he said.

The isolation campaign has forced Qatar to seek more expensive imports and reroute flights on costly detours over friendlier airspace. 

The boycotting countries have previously told the WTO that they would cite national security to justify their actions against Qatar, using a controversial and almost unprecedented exemption allowed under the WTO rules.

Many trade diplomats, however, say that using national security as a defence risks weakening the WTO by removing a taboo that could enable countries to escape international trade obligations.

There was no immediate reaction from the three countries to Qatar’s complaint.

In its WTO case, Qatar would also draw attention to the effect the boycott was having on other WTO members, he said.

Source: Reuters